For Immediate Release
April 9, 2007

KDHE Office of Communications, 785-296-0461

KDHE Identifies Radium in Wichita Properties

Recent investigations by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) have identified several properties in the Wichita area that are contaminated from the past use of solvents and radium paint. The contamination was a result of stripping operations that removed the paint containing radium from surplus aircraft instruments.

Radium paint was used to make the aircraft dials visible in the dark interior of the cockpit primarily in older aircraft from the World War II era. However, many of these instruments have been used in the light aircraft industry for original installations or as replacement parts. Solvents were used to remove the paint from the old dials so that the dial face could be repainted.

Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive metal. It occurs at low levels in virtually all rock, soil, water, plants and animals. The greatest health risk from radium in the environment, however, is actually its decay product radon, which can collect in buildings.

KDHE has recently completed testing at several properties and identified contamination from various chemicals and low-level radium in buildings, soil and ground water. The levels exceed the Environmental Protection Agency clean-up guidelines. KDHE and the city of Wichita are working with former operators and landowners to clean up past contamination problems.

KDHE is also investigating other properties that may have been used for radium dial repair to determine if contamination exists. Forty-two historical aircraft dial shops have been identified in the Wichita vicinity. KDHE will work with the responsible parties to ensure protection of the public health and protection of the environment.